Monday, September 16, 2013

The Post-Conference Slump

At SCBWI LA with writing pals (left to right) Bridget,
Jodi, Pat, (me), Kathryn, Ghenet, & Edith
When I started writing fiction seriously about four years ago, I also began attending writer conferences. So far I've been to about six of them, and this August I made it over to the national SCBWI conference in LA for the first time.

Many of my writer friends consider this event one of the most special, motivating, and authentically fun weekend seminars for children's book writers. And I'm happy to report that the conference did not disappoint. The keynotes were delightful, particularly Laurie Halse Anderson, Matt de la Pena, and Jarrett Krosoczka. I had an amazing critique from an agent, and Richard Peck's first line workshop seriously inspired me to write more beautifully. I even got to meet a blogging pal - Cynthia from Read Is The New Black.

During the entire four-day event, I was pumped. The talks energized me to write the best book I can possible write -- to sharpen my prose, raise the stakes in my plot, liven up my characters. But when I got off the plane in NY, my brain remained in plan mode. Aaaand... I didn't write again for about three weeks.

This wasn't the first time I experienced a post-conference writing slump. In fact, it's happened to me after every single weekend-long conference I've attended. So what gives?

Last week at another SCBWI workshop (this one in New York) the words of a wise author hit home to me. And for the first time, I realized why conferences -- while stirring and enlightening -- have been so temporarily disruptive to my own writing.

Editor Wendy Lamb and Newbery winner Rebecca Stead at
SCBWI Metro NY's Professional Series
Rebecca Stead, along with her editor, Wendy Lamb, were special guests at my local Metro NY branch's monthly writing talk. If you read my MMGM features, then you know I'm a Fan of Stead. Yes, that's fan with a capital F. As far as middle grade goes, she's top notch, and I seriously wish I could have read her books in elementary school.

While describing her writing process, Stead mentioned how perfectionism can really get in the way of doing the work. And what writer can't relate to that? She said that sometimes, preparing to write is like setting up for a perfect dive. And if you're a good, dedicated diver, you'll stand on the edge of the pool and concentrate on the building blocks of that set up so you execute strongly.

But if you're too focused on setting up perfectly -- you might not dive at all.

Here is a tweet from another attendee that sums that up more concicely:
Though I enjoy and learn a ton from conferences, the intense amount of information, feedback, and reflection put me in set up mode. I leave thinking of a million things I should change and improve. And for a small amount of time, I'm too intimidated to dive (ha) back into my writing. Because a piece of me wonders if I can ever live up to the renewed vision I have for my work.

That said, I seriously love attending writing conferences. This problem eventually solves itself, but next time, I might paste a few gentle reminders in my notebook to help bolster me from my own hyper criticism.

How about you? Do you ever psych yourself out when you're learning all the good stuff at writing conferences? Any tips on how to incorporate craft lessons without slipping into a slump?

12 comments:

  1. Although I've never been to a conference, I can identify with the slump idea. Working as a freelance editor makes it even harder for me to write, I think, because I notice all the things wrong with my writing as I'm writing. Moving forward in a draft when I don't feel it's "just right" is tough for me. The diving analogy hits me right where I need it right now. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. My pleasure - it's a post that's been in the work for a long time -- and I'm glad you can relate! Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I SO needed to read this post because I'm in the middle of a MAJOR slump and you perfectly articulated why. I'm supposed to be writing another first draft but I'm super intimidated. It doesn't help to be in the middle of querying and receiving rejections. I'm hoping my slump ends soon and in the meantime, I'm reading a lot and brainstorming my new idea. Hopefully soon I'll feel more of an urge to dive in.

    I hope the same for you!

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    1. Thank you, Ghenet! And yes, being on submission while trying to do anything is near impossible. We need to commiserate!

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  3. How cool that you were able to meet Rebecca Stead! And I totally get it. I think I get let down the most after a conference because I get all these great ideas and thoughts while I'm there, but I just don't take the time to get it all down and written while it is still hot. I think I should take a personal day of writing the day after I get home just to lay out my new ideas. Hope you get right back at it soon! :)

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    1. That's a great idea! With so much info whizzing by, it can help keep you grounded and organized. Love it.

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  4. Like you, I love conferences. They are exhilarating, but also mentally (and emotionally!) exhausting. Great idea to "paste a few gentle reminders" in your notebook: a lot of writing is just letting things settle and ferment a while.

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  5. Great line about throwing yourself over the board flailing: describes my writing practice exactly! I got a helpful note from a writing class that gave me a new perspective on all those conferences telling you what you could be doing better: Don't strive to master the craft; strive to be enlightened by the craft. (Betsy Warland) Don't come away from a conference with a checklist of things you're doing wrong; think of every workshop as a way to open doors into your work and your process. It's still your work and your process and you have to flail about in your own way.

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  6. The only time I experience a writing slump is after reading a really good book. I can only imagine how it's like for you after attending a conference.
    Thanks for the recap. :)

    ~Akoss

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    1. Most recently, I felt that way after reading "Code Name Verity," "Counting By 7s," and "Three Times Lucky." Those books!!

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